ON NOT GETTING WHAT WE WANT AND LEARNING TO BE GRATEFUL FOR WHAT WE HAVE BY CAROL P. CHRIST
Although I am as neurotic as the next person, I am also really wonderful—intelligent, emotionally available, beautiful (if I do say so myself), sweet, caring, and bold. I love to dance, swim, and think about the meaning of life. I passionately wanted to find someone with whom to share my life. I did everything I could to make that happen—including years of therapy and even giving up my job and moving half way around the world when I felt I had exhausted the possibilities at home.
For much of my adult life I have asked myself: What is wrong with me? Why can’t I find what everybody else has? Even though I knew that there were a lot of other really great women in my generation in my position and even though I knew that many of my friends were with men I wouldn’t chose to be with, I still asked: What is wrong with me?
I started thinking about this again recently because the book I am writing with Judith Plaskow–tentatively titled God After Feminism–involves reflecting on God in my life. So far I have written about my life up to the point where I left Yale. I began to dread the next chapter because I knew I would have to address my failed marriage and my hope that my relationship with the Goddess Aphrodite would help me to find my true love. The vulnerability and desperation I remember in my younger self made me wish I could just erase that part of my life. But I did write a book called Laughter of Aphrodite, so I can’t.
Last week I found an article that said that in only 1 in 720 relationships is the woman taller than the man. I am over 6 feet tall and there are very few men in the world over 6 feet 3. I wrote gleefully to my friend Cristina: It really wasn’t me! My chances of finding a partner were slim to none to begin with! She wrote back: It most certainly was YOU and also ME and all the strong women who really do not need men so very much that we will …compromise so we could have a man no matter what. Why do you blame yourself for not accepting uncaring or deeply unsatisfying relationships?
I actually did marry a man who was over 6 feet 3 who adored me and was proud that I was both tall and a feminist. He was not my intellectual or financial equal, but I don’t think that would have mattered if he had been my emotional equal. When my husband rejected male dominance, he replaced it with a kind of passivity. Whenever I pushed him to express his feelings, he retreated, saying that he had learned from Eastern spirituality not to express anger or any other strong emotions. In the end, this was deeply unsatisfying to me.
I have to admit that my friend was right that I was unwilling to accept an unsatisfying relationship. The fact remains that she and I and many other women I know who affirm embodiment and sexuality have not found satisfying relationships. The real reason for this is that women have changed and most men have not caught up with us. A few women are lucky to find men who have. But there simply are not enough of them to go around. Accepting this fact has not been easy.
My failure to get what I wanted and thought I deserved in terms of either career or marriage was a bitter pill to swallow. It forced me to rethink the message of my childhood: if you try hard enough, you will succeed—I think I can, I think I can, I thought I could, I did. In fact the stubborn reality was that I couldn’t.
When I emerged from my dark night of the soul and years of depression, I came to understand a truth that is one of the bedrocks of my spirituality: Life really is not about getting what we want. I am not talking here about self-emptying, self-sacrifice, or giving up the ego, so much as about a profound re-centering of focus away from me and my wants and needs–towards my place in the web of Life. The corollary for me is: I am thankful to be alive. I give thanks daily for Gaia’s gifts, for Life itself, and I am grateful to be part of Life.
I say I have become a kind of Buddhist because I no longer put my-self first. Yet I have not given up desire. I still have goals and hope to achieve them. I believe that each of us, human and other than human, has unique contributions to make to the whole. At the same time, I try not to let my failure to achieve any particular goal cloud my vision. I dreamed of finding that special person to share my life. It did not happen. I dream of all the people living life in peace, but I also know this may never happen. At the same time, my ability to dream—and to know that I am not the only one–is one of my unique contributions to Life. Blessed be.
Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement. She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute.